Sometimes you just know. Sure there’s plenty of fish in the sea and picking is hard but occasionally you get a good vibe and the other party knows what needs to be done to finish you off. The communication is good. You turn up and are handled well, they’re experienced. They coax the best out of you, help you through the trickier moves and finally leave you sweaty, tired, spent and unable to walk properly for days. If you’re lucky they will do the same for your mates as well.
Of course I’m referring to race organisers. What else?
Country to Capital has been on my radar for a while and recommended as a good season opener. The race organisers Go Behind Ultra have a great reputation but previously never used them.
I signed up on impulse over Christmas as some clubmates were running it (even more than I originally thought it turns out) so I’d have company.
All the pre-event stuff seemed good and there was a regular string of updates as they re-checked the course and made alterations due to issues on routes. They also updated the GPX route so nobody had an excuse for getting lost. It’s these things that matter. I’ve been to events before where the same blurry photocopied course notes from the inaugural 1812 event are handed over with some scribbles for diversions that are as useful as a Magic 8 Ball for navigation.
In the end I managed to beg a lift to start from a further clubmate Julian, back for his fourth go. The race starts in a pub in Wendover and finishes in Little Venice in London so you need to give some thought to transport on this one. Or bring a bike.
Arriving at the pub used for the start it was packed. My planning had been limited and I hadn’t realised how many entrants there were. Despite the big numbers the registration, chip collection and bag drop were done like professionals. Starting in a pub was also a great change from events that kick off in a cold wet muddy field full of cow poo.
At registration you get a full route course in a book. It seemed detailed and thorough but I relied on GPS so it spent the race getting sweating and falling apart in my race vest.
The first train from London arrives 15 minutes before race start and the organisers go from slick to super slick to get them all processed in time for the 8:30am start.
The first thing everyone tells you about C2C is to go fast for the first gate. Jen, Matt and I got stuck near the back so didn’t. We queued a bit but nothing big. If you were going for the win I would definitely recommend a sprint start.
The early parts of the course are mostly fields and footpaths with lots of gates and stiles to break it up (another reason to go balls out from the start if looking to win).
The three of us ran well and stayed together. Normally Jen kills me on races so wasn’t sure if she was holding back or Matt and I were about to blow. Time would tell.
Aid stations are good – water and energy drink, gels, some awesome sweets and the best cake I’ve ever eaten. Over the course of the race I ate more cake than over Christmas. The variety of snacks at aid stations isn’t the ‘kids birthday party’ you get at Centurion events but more than enough, especially with the cake. I liked the cake.
Much of the route is either made paths or concrete/hard packed towpaths once on canal. Unless the previous weeks have been awful I’d recommend road shoes with some grip rather than full trail. Personally I’d go for Adidas Supernova as they’re my preferred shoe and suit my ample mass and poor form (no I’m not sponsored by them but I’d love to be).
On subject of kit, the mandatory list is pretty brief, relying on common sense for the entrants to pick what they need. Given it’s in January the weather is variable so I’d personally add a spare long sleeved base layer in ziplock bag, emergency foil blanket and a decent rain coat. The usual bag of tissues, plasters and Vaseline is a good idea as well. Being a short ultra there is no intermediate drop bag so you need to carry everything you think you’d need. In an absolute disaster there are two supermarkets on route so I’d bring emergency debit card and some folding cash. There are also pubs. I wasn’t allowed to stop in any. My mates are evil.
The course has a couple of hills in first 10 miles or so but otherwise flat. Hitting 19 miles as it clicked over to 3hrs we had made good progress. Marathon distance came at 4h15ish and I felt good. Then we got to 30 and I didn’t any more. This was my first ultra since July and it was showing. Matt and I stayed together whilst Jen powered on.
My mental state probably wasn’t helped by being back on the route of the Grand Union Canal Race and recalling the Hades Inferno that nearly did for me last May after a 120 mile warmup. Given Matt was using this event as training for the GUCR I tried not to let the PTSD show.
Matt and I worked our way along, walking the bridges and trying to keep a steady rhythm. Although we had no real time goal, sub 8hr seemed a nice target and with six miles to go we seemed to be a few minutes inside sub 7hr expected time. It was close.
Ignoring the massive amount of litter/fly tipping on some sections (Londoners I have to say, are at times bloody disgusting) I looked for the landmarks from my last time along here. We both agreed that at 1 mile to go we would push for it, with no hard feelings if one of us blasted out a Mo Farah sprint finish.
If you’ve done the GUCR you’ll know the finish line is at the toilets in Little Venice. As we approached there was nothing there. Momentary panic was averted by spectators cheering us on and advising the finish was a few metres beyond the toilets. Unfortunately just like Jen, our inner Mo had deserted us and instead we finished together, both shocked to scrape under the 7hr. Jen had put 12 minutes into us on the final 13-14 miles which is either amazing or embarrassing depending on your view.
Time for more cake, beer and a train home.
If you’ve not done a Go Beyond Ultra event before then I’d recommend them, and also this race. They know what they’re doing and you’re in safe hands (add your own sexual innuendos here).